True independence comes from within this neighborhood, where high-rent and low-budget meet at every corner. It’s centrally located in the 4th district, not far from Karlsplatz
and just behind the Technical University, with the Naschmarkt, the city’s most famous market, forming the northern boundary. Yet this is where artsy locals and students spend their time, meeting up in cafes and art galleries, shopping and browsing its small boutiques. It also hosts the superb Freihausviertel street festival every summer – the largest in Vienna.
The area’s name (literally “free house quarter”) dates back to 1643, when it was granted its own jurisdiction and taxation. During the 18th century, it was an enormous tenement, running its own school, library and the Freihaustheater, where Mozart’s Magic Flute premiered in 1791. Heavily bombed during World War II, it became rundown and deserted until the late 1990s when the gallerist and antiques dealer Georg Kargl banded together with local business leaders to form a neighborhood association. It now feels gentrified but still retains authentic bohemian charm.
From grannies to fine china
Georg Kargl’s fine art gallery was one of the first of many to open on the Grätzl’s main drag, Schleifmühlgasse, now a center of the contemporary art scene. The area has also become a hub for young Austrian fashion designers: the Pregenzer boutique across the street carries Jutta Pregenzer’s designs as well as various European and American brands.
On the corner of Schleifmühlgasse and Naschmarkt is cozy Café Amacord, all dark wood and warm hues, serving classic Viennese cuisine to creative types and students.
As you wander up Schleifmühlgasse, stop at the deliciously kitschy Vollpension cafe with its trendy vintage furniture. It specializes in a delectable assortment of cakes made by local Omis (grandmothers). Try the zucchini chocolate cake, or pick from a range of hearty dishes like Krautfleckerl or Letscho stew.
A stroll down nearby Margaretenstraße also yields an array of interesting shops, including Feinedinge, a workshop and showroom selling minimalist tableware, vases and lamps, all handmade in Vienna from the finest porcelain.
Keeping it fresh
The Freihausviertel also has a lively night scene. The Schikaneder bar and arthouse cinema has different DJs every night and is a popular meeting place for an eclectic crowd of hipsters and students. It’s named after Emanuel Schikaneder, famed local theater impresario and a close friend of Mozart’s.
Zweitbester on Heumühlgasse, with its industrial concrete bar, is another favorite with locals. Its menu features one of the best cheeseburgers in town and enticingly good coffee and desserts. It also holds exhibitions and cooking events.
A far cry from its modest origins as housing for the city’s poor, the modern Freihausviertel still maintains its independent, bohemian flair despite its proximity to the posh first district.
Locations mentioned in this article